Withnail and I (1987) is one of the great British comedies. It is at once both a “city boys can’t handle country life” romp and a “British politeness is crippling” commentary, mixed in with drugs, sexuality, and a chicken.
The story begins with such quiet hilarity, it’s difficult for the rest of the film to compete with the opening scene. We enter the 1969 lives of London flatmates, our central character Marwood played by Doctor Who‘s Paul McGann and drug addled Withnail played by Richard E. Grant. The pair, driven mad by starvation, drugs, and lack of fresh air are unable to cope with what has become of their kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes. Marwood imagines that there are rats and that a teabag is growing out of it. Later, Marwood is philosophizing in his notebook as impoverished actor Withnail drinks lighter fluid.
To get away from their failure, the flatmates visit Withnail’s uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths), who grows vegetables all over his living room. He gives them use of his country cottage for a vacation, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that they are not cut out for country life. City boys unable to figure out how to kill and cook (let alone catch) a chicken worry that they’ll starve in the county just the same as they’d have starved in the city. There is one line of dialogue that sums up the plot of the movie:
“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!”
That’s when Uncle Monty shows up with lust in his eyes for beautiful young man Marwood, and although Marwood does everything in his power to run and hide from Monty, it is his British politeness that keeps him from turning him down outright. The man did give them use of his cottage, after all.
Through all these challenges, it’s difficult for the two flatmates to remain as close (if ever they were) as they were in London. This is a vacation turning point in their lives. A definite recommend!
JAIME POND IS THE EDITOR OF ANGLONERD. SHE LIVES AND WORKS IN NYC. FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER.